Introduction: How to Set a Formal Dinner Table
There are many different options when it comes to setting a dinner table, but most importantly it depends on the situation or the occasion. This situation is for a formal dinner that you may have with friends or family. It is a fairly simple set-up that follows a few basic guidelines that help you to easily set an attractive dinner table. There are many alternatives that you can do to add or subtract to the table setting. But this set up seen in the picture is a fairly basic one that is extremely simple to add to. Like I stated above, the most important thing for setting a formal dinner table is the situation or the occasion. Picking your tablecloth, napkin, centerpiece, and dinnerware colors should be planned around what type of dinner you are having. If it is for Thanksgiving an obvious centerpiece would be something centered around the idea of Thanksgiving, the same goes for Christmas, and after that color patterns will follow. This Instructable is not about colors and decorations though, it is about how to set a simple dinner table for a formal event. This knowledge and creation alone will help to make a for a beautiful, elegant-looking table.
Step 1: Things Needed
The list of things needed again can vary on what type of dinner you will be having, but for this simple set up you will need the following:
-Teacup and Saucer
In another variation later in this Instructable you will also see the following added to this list:
For more formal dinners more things can be added such as:
-Wine Glass for White/Red Wine (There would then be two wine glasses)
-Potential for more Silverware depending on what is being served.
Step 2: Plates
The first step is to set down the dinner plates. They should be remotely centered in front of each chair, and each dinner plate should line up with the one across from it. Each dinner plate should be place a thumb knuckles' length from the edge of the table. This can be seen in the second picture below. Place your thumb knuckle on the edge of the table and then place the dinner plate at the end of your thumb. This should be done for all dinner plates.
The second part to this step is to place the salad plate inside the middle of the dinner plate, as seen in picture three. This should be done at all place settings. It might seem strange to put one plate on top of the other, but this is done because the salad course is served before the dinner course; therefore, the salad plate will be used and finished with before the dinner plate is used. If the salad is going to be served at the same time as the main course the table can still be set this way and the guest can move the salad plate to a different location when they are ready to use their dinner plate.
Step 3: Silverware
The next step is the silverware, here we are using the basic four types of silverware needed for a formal dinner. If the dinner you plan to serve is more formal than this then you simply add the types of silverware you will need for that occasion. Working from the inside moving out helps to keep everything in line. To keep things spaced out evenly use your thumb and be sure to eyeball what looks good for correct spacing. Therefore starting with the forks that go on the left, the dinner fork will be placed first. Use your thumb to measure the length from the edge of the table just like you did for the dinner plate. This technique will be used for all of the silverware to help keep the straight line. Next step is the table knife on the right side of the dinner plate. Measure with your thumb again for the correct placement from the edge of the table. When looking at the knife you will see that each side of the blade looks different. One side is completely smooth, while the other side is serrated, or has the little teeth showing. When setting a formal dinner table make sure that the table knife is smooth side up, and that you cannot see the serrated side.
The last two types of silverware are the salad fork and the table spoon. The salad fork should be placed to the left of the dinner fork as seen in the fifth picture below. Try to keep a nice even distance between the two forks as there is between the dinner fork and the dinner plate, not too much and not too little, but there is not a specific amount. Just make sure you can see the whole utensil and that none of it is hiding under the dinner plate.
The table spoon is then placed to the right of the table knife, again eyeballing for spacing between the two utensils and using your thumb for placement from the edge of the table.
Step 4: Napkins
As stated earlier, cloth napkins really help to keep the dinner table looking formal. There are many ways to fold a napkin. A basic one is shown in the picture; just a simple rectangle put on the left hand side of the plates and outside of the silverware (forks). Another way is show in the "Things Needed" step. Instead of folded in a rectangle you can fold the cloth napkin into a triangle and place the napkin in the same spot with the top point, pointing outwards to the left. One other way to fold a napkin is to buy napkin rings and put the napkin up through the ring. When done this way the napkin can be placed in the same spot or laid vertically on top of the dinner and salad plates. There are also many different colors of napkins that can be used depending on the color of your tablecloth and plates.
Step 5: Glasses
Glasses are the final things that are needed on the table. The water glass should be placed first. Using one without a stem is completely acceptable for drinks that are non-alcoholic. A glass like the one seen can be used for water, punch, soda, or whatever else the guest would like. Typically water will be served with some sort of wine at a formal dinner. This water glass should be placed straight above the table knife. The second picture in this step will show a clear angle of the table knife pointing up to the middle of the water glass.
The second glass needed is the wine lass, a this type of glass has a foot and a stem as opposed to the water glass that does not have either. If you are serving red and white wine you may have two separate glasses, one for each wine. A red wine glass typically has a rounder, wider bowl. A white wine glass has a smaller bowl with a smaller rim than a red wine glass. If only one type of wine will be served using a rounder bowl is fine for either. This set up uses a rounder bowl, because typically only one wine is served except for more formal occasions. The wine glass is placed up and to the left of the water glass. It can be seen in the third picture below.
The third type of glass used in this set-up is the cup and saucer. It is used if tea or coffee are going to be served during of after dinner. The cup and saucer should be place to the right of the spoon directly out from the middle of the dinner plate. There is no real way to measure this, just make sure to eyeball what seems to look right. In the fourth and fifth pictures. The base of the cup will sit in an inner ring of the saucer. Make sure the place the cup the correct way as soon in the pictures. Placing it upside down is incorrect, it needs to be right side up so you can easily pour the coffee or tea into it.
This table setting is complete after all of the glasses are set. For alternatives or more advanced table setting options you can see step 6.
Step 6: Alternatives
There are many different alternatives to setting a formal dinner table, and they all depend on what food is going to be served and exactly how formal you want the occasion to be. In this case, I am showing two alternatives, but they are still very basic. They deal with variations in the types of food that could be served. In the first picture I added a bread plate and a butter knife. This would be used in the table setting when bread, dinner rolls, or something of the sort was being served with dinner.
The second alternative is adding the soup bowl and soup spoon. This obviously would be done when soup is going to be served before or during the dinner. The soup spoon is placed on the outside because it will be used first. When using the silverware at the table, a rule of thumb is to work from outside in; therefore, the soup spoon is placed on the outside. Also, when serving soup, bread or dinner rolls should be considered. If not bread, at least crackers, and guests could put some of the crackers on the bread plate.
Of course there are many other alternatives, but to keep things simple and 'true-to-life' situations, this type of table setting will fit most occasions. If more alternatives are needed, you can always use the internet or home-type magazines for more options.